To Make Cars Safer, Computer Experts Are Hacking Them

Some white-hat hackers are releasing a 100-page white paper they wrote on the vulnerabilities in Ford's and Toyota's car systems.

Bored with dealing with software glitches from firms like Apple and Microsoft, a pair of hackers have turned their attention to the in-car computer systems of Toyota and Ford to see how vulnerable auto firms are to malignant attacks. So far they have managed to alter the speed of a Prius traveling at 80 mph, and disable the brakes of a Ford Escape, all by connecting a laptop to the vehicle's computer system. Does this all sound rather Stephen King to you?

The pair, Twitter engineer Charlie Miller and security expert Chris Valasek, are showing their findings at the Def Con hacking conference in Las Vegas this week. Although one would have thought hacking a vehicle at distance, instead of from within the car, would be something more likely to get government funding, researchers are already on the case. Earlier this year, a group of researchers from the University of California San Diego and the University of Washington tried their hand at hacking the system of a car from another car behind it. It worked.

While some in the automotive industry positively welcome the research, a group of luxury carmakers are not so happy with similar research conducted by a group of European scientists who worked out how to unlock the security systems of their vehicles. Volkswagen last week won an injunction from the British High Court to prevent a lecturer from revealing the unique algorithm by which the car identifies the ignition key.

Three years ago, Toyota ran into problems with the braking system of its flagship EV. Prius driver Steve Wozniak claimed he'd suffered "unintended acceleration" issues.

[Image: Flickr user Mike Baird]

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